Posted on December 18, 2014

The Supreme Committee (SC) for Delivery & Legacy has released its first Semi-Annual Workers’ Welfare Compliance Report, outlining the panel’s goals, achievements, and challenges in relation to the first six months of implementing SC’s Workers’ Welfare Standards.

Developed in consultation with experts in labour and human rights, the standards are a contractually binding set of requirements for all contractors working on SC projects. The report is a self-assessment of the SC’s experience applying the standards in the six-month period after their release in February 2014. “The SC continues to make important strides in improving the welfare of workers,” said Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary-General of the committee. “The report is an honest self-assessment, highlighting how complex this issue is and difficulties we have faced, but also the significant progress we have made.”

The report marks the first time the SC has publicly disclosed compliance data on FIFA World Cup projects. “Even though we are quite early on in the process, we feel that we have a responsibility to be transparent and update our stakeholders on progress,” said Farah Al Muftah, Chair, SC Workers’ Welfare Committee (WWC). “We hope that by getting this information out in the public domain, we can launch a productive discussion about some of the challenges we face and how to scale up solutions that have been successful so far.”

The report, which contains anecdotes submitted by contractors and workers, outlines SC’s key achievements in the first six-months of applying the standards. Working closely with stakeholders, SC was able to integrate worker welfare assessments into the tendering process; develop a legal mechanism that links contractor payments to worker welfare compliance; and set up an audit regime to monitor conditions on construction sites and in worker accommodations. A notable outcome of SC’s work is marked improvements in worker accommodations, a topic that has been discussed widely in recent media reports on expatriate workers in Qatar.

“We focused on the most pressing issues first, that is, making sure that all workers on SC projects have a clean, safe place to live,” said Stephan van Dyk, part of the SC’s Workers’ Welfare compliance team. “While some contractors already maintained a relatively high standard of living in their accommodations, others needed help understanding what ‘good’ looks like. We were encouraged to see that with a bit of education on our standards, most contractors who needed to improve did so quite quickly.”

The report also identifies some of the challenges SC faced in taking its WW Standards to the marketplace. Aside from a general lack of awareness about the WW Standard’s requirements at the outset, the Workers’ Welfare compliance team found that the short duration of some contracts made it difficult to work with companies in resolving some of the more complex issues expatriate workers face. “It did not take contractors as long as we thought it would to bring worker accommodations up to an appropriate level as they all had a positive attitude to the standards and were happy to work in partnership with us,” van Dyk said.

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“The real challenge lies in solving more complex issues, such as the ethical recruitment of workers, which involves layers upon layers of agents and sub-agents in sending countries, who operate outside of Qatar’s regulatory reach. Solving these issues will require more time as well as participation in multi-stakeholder initiatives.”

SC identified additional challenges in the course of its discussions with workers during audits and at Workers’ Welfare Forums. “Two of our contractors have established their Workers’ Welfare Forums since February, which is fantastic,” said Megan Jenkins, also part of SC’s Workers’ Welfare compliance team. The great thing about the forums is that they give workers an opportunity to have a real dialogue with management and SC about what works and does not work with regard to workers’ welfare.

“Through these discussions we found that occasionally, as was the case with privacy curtains, workers’ preferences were at odds with the requirements we set out in the standards. This is part of the learning process and, in some cases, will lead to revisions to the standards,” Jenkins said. SC will oversee the establishment of more Workers’ Welfare Forums by its contractors in the months to come and set up a Programme Welfare Forum which will facilitate broader dialogue between workers and management across all its projects.

SC invited the human rights NGO Amnesty International for comments on the report prior to its release. In communications with WWC, Amnesty recognised the positive steps taken by SC and gave frank feedback on areas for improvement in line with previous statements. SC welcomed the constructive engagement and recognises that there is room for further improvement. “Working with an external organisation in preparing the report helped us gain an outside perspective,” Al Muftah said. “In the future, we plan to assemble a broader group of experts with academic, NGO, government, and business backgrounds to help us review public reports.”

While the report demonstrates that progress has been made on key issues, SC notes that significant challenges remain. In the coming months, SC plans to release a second version of WW Standards, which will include updates based on lessons learned and extensive discussions with workers, contractors and representatives from government, trade unions and NGOs.

“The challenges we face are too big for any one organisation, or country, to handle alone,” said Al Thawadi. Engagement has been an important part of our approach so far and being even more inclusive in our consultations with workers and other stakeholders going forward will increase the chances of developing appropriate solutions with a lasting impact. We are confident that strong worker welfare policies, vigilance, and sustained engagement with our partners will continue to create a safe and healthy working environment on all World Cup projects.